The night was dark and misty
Nary a star above my head
The streets were bare and silent now
The cobbles locked in quiet peace
Save me, the wand’ring poet
Upon me then came a soothsayer
Dark and clad in rags of green
He bade me listen to his tale
A story fit for kings and gods
And me, the wand’ring poet
I had no choice and sat we did
Upon a nearby crate of fruit
He took my hand and placed it
Against a book of velvet blue
Just me, the wand’ring poet
He told me open up my mind
And hear the song from long ago
A song of ancient tongues afar
From beyond our time and space
Far from me, the wand’ring poet
I rolled my eyes, a skeptic then
As he spoke of boiling flame
From fissures deep beneath the ground
And beings from the sky above
Skeptic me, the wand’ring poet
He sensed my disapproval
And changed his tone of voice
Angry now, he chastised me
For doubting his story’s veracity
Doubting Thomas, the wand’ring poet
He demanded then I seek the sky
The blanket black surrounding us
And stare into the nameless void
The void where creatures big and small
Await me, the wand’ring poet
I thought to leave then, tired
A weight of fatigue upon me
His words still rang inside my head
The frantic begging for me to see
Begging me, the wand’ring poet
Such a foolish man, I thought
To speak of fire and monsters
When never has there been proof
That either would exist
I laughed, the wand’ring poet
He told me sit and stay awhile
To listen, please, to what he said,
To save my soul from horrors yet
And free myself from fate’s embrace
Ridiculous, the wand’ring poet
I ignored him and stood up,
Keen to resume my nightly stroll
He grasped my arm and I could feel
The tension in his hands
Restrained, the wand’ring poet
Angered, I ripped my arm away
And shoved him back onto the ground
How dare he touch me, presuming
That I would welcome it?
The haughty, wand’ring poet
And as he sprawled upon the street
He looked at me with piercing eyes
Of cloudy blue and brilliant green
A look of familiarity
He knew the wand’ring poet
He tried to speak, I silenced him
I did not want to hear his mewls
I took my leave and heard him cry
“You stupid, blind, impetuous fool!”
Cursing me, the wand’ring poet
I turned a corner, heading home
Just down an alley I always trod
I stopped then, frozen, as I saw
A man, I thought, all dressed in black
Gazing at me, the wand’ring poet
He stretched out a hand, spindly and thin
And beckoned me to join him
As if by magic, I complied
I stepped into the alley
Terrified, the wand’ring poet
As I entered, there was a sound
Of grinding teeth and rending flesh
The alley closed behind me then
Sealing me away from the world
Alone now, the wand’ring poet
The bricks and stone of the alley
Were gone, replaced by nothing clear
Just swirling colors, spirals
Of things unseen and barely seen
Confusing me, the wand’ring poet
The man walked toward me
And I saw he towered high above me
A monument to shaky skin
And misshapen bones and twisted hands
Above me, the wand’ring poet
He placed a hand upon my shoulder
I felt the cracking of his joints
And then a seizing pain
As he clenched down to the marrow
The bone of me, the wand’ring poet
I cried in agony as he lifted me
Up to his gnarled face
A mass of scars and melted flesh
A monument to damned excess
Holding me, the wand’ring poet
He spoke at me, with acid breath
Of lack of faith and belief
He would show me then
He declared with ringing voice
Me, the wand’ring poet
He said he was the Weyfarer
To give to those the knowledge needed
To see the universe as it is
No bells and whistles or tricks
And now me, the wand’ring poet
He turned and walked
Still holding me
Into a coal-black hole
Inside which I could see nothing
Blind me, the wand’ring poet
On the other side I saw
A brilliance far beyond my brain
A striking purple-bluish-green
And eyes of multifarity
Stared at me, the wand’ring poet
I heard the voice inside my head
All ringing, howling, screeching noise
It spoke to me of things to come
Of lakes of boiling pitch in which
I’d drown, the wand’ring poet
Tears ran down as I struggled
Held aloft by silent hands
As prophecies from far beyond
Were forced into the head
Of a sobbing, wand’ring poet
I saw my family in ages
Twisted, wrinkled mannequins
And bleeding hearts and weeping sores
I could not turn away
A prisoner, the wand’ring poet
Wars and terror
Bombs and guns
And spoiled flesh upon a field
All this in front of me
The captive, wand’ring poet
I begged him then,
To take me far away from here
He shook his head and refused me
A desperate, wand’ring poet
He told me that I had to see
To be afraid and understand
That worlds beyond what I had known
Existed, waiting, for escape
A student, the wand’ring poet
I was tasked then by the void
To spread the word and tell the tale
Of what I had seen and what was to come
To wander and to minister
The servant, wand’ring poet
The Weyfarer, then, cast me out
Hurling me from blackness
Before I left, two parting gifts
That I had seen before
Irony, thy wand’ring poet
Upon the cobbled stone I kneeled
Recovering from my ordeal
I clad myself in rags of green
And held the book of velvet blue
A prophet, wand’ring poet
And thus began my walk of hate
Spreading the word that no-one heard
To be kicked and spat upon
Ignored and despised by all the world
The outcast, wand’ring poet
And then one night so different
From the thousand nights I felt before
A strange familiarity
Sank into me and gave me fear
The curious, wand’ring poet
I looked ahead of me and saw
A sight I dreaded but expected
Myself, a-wandering, content
So unaware of what was to come
The haughty, wand’ring poet
The night was dark and misty
Nary a star above my head
The streets were bare and silent now
The cobbles locked in quiet peace
Save him, the wand’ring poet
I tried to speak to tell him
Of the things that he would see
To walk away and not go home
To go but elsewhere, not alone
Ignored me, the wand’ring poet
So now I sit, a mindless wreck
Engulfed by fear and prickling hate
Aware that nothing ere can change
Lost in among the tides of fate
Is me, the damn-ed poet.
Mrs. Beverly Pitts frowned as she tasted the cake batter. Too bland. There was still something missing. It wasn’t that big a deal at the moment, but she knew that the cake needed to be perfect for the big party tonight. It was the big one – Master Thomas was turning fifty – so there was no room for bland cake anywhere. Of course, he would never be cruel about it, but she didn’t want to disappoint him in the slightest.
She pursed her lips as she thought, her face wrinkling. Not that it was a problem, mind you. She had been taking care of this family for generations but still didn’t look a day over sixty. What did this cake need? She found herself getting annoyed at the time she was wasting. This wasn’t acceptable. Maybe there was something in the pantry she could use to spice things up a bit.
Beverly turned and, with no great deal of surprise, saw a hulking figure in the doorway. It was dressed all in black and a gleaming silver knife was gripped in its left hand. Slowly, with menace, it closed the door and moved toward her.
Sugar? No. The cake already had enough sugar. It needed something else.
The man came up right against her and held the knife to her throat. She looked directly into the man’s eyes, which were the only body part not covered by the suit. This one had blue eyes. How lovely! She liked blue eyes. Her dear departed Harold had blue eyes once upon a time. That is, until cataracts and a stray bottle rocket had removed both the blue and her Harold from her life. She sighed. What a sad way to go. If only he hadn’t been sitting by that gas station. Oh well. What might have been.
“Don’t scream,” the man growled, his voice all shadow and gravel. She blinked but did not break her gaze.
“What does the cake need?” she asked. The confusion that came across the figure’s eyes was immediate and intense.
“The cake. It’s too bland. It needs…something to make it stand out.”
The thought she had been looking for finally struck her, and she smiled, and her green eyes lit up with pleasure.
“Molasses! You’re absolutely correct. Thank you, young man.”
By the hesitance in his voice and the puzzlement in his eyes, she could tell that things were not going exactly as he had expected.
“Very good. I’m going to go get that from the pantry…if that’s okay with you.”
The man lowered his knife and she made her way to the pantry and opened the door. Molasses, molasses…ah, there it was. She frowned again. Naturally, it was on the top shelf.
“Excuse me, young man?”
The man turned to look at her, utterly perplexed at this point.
“Would you be a dear and come get the molasses down? It’s a bit too high for me and the stepstool has been so rickety lately. I’d hate to fall and hurt myself.”
“Of course,” the man said as he walked over to her. He squeezed by her and, with no effort, reached up and plucked the jar of molasses from the top shelf, handing it to her gently. She smiled and patted him on the arm.
“Thank you so much. Now, why don’t you go sit down at that table and we can talk while I finish making this cake. I’ll put a kettle on. Are you hungry?”
“I…well…I mean, I guess I could eat.”
“Lovely!” she said, “I’ll make up some sandwiches too when this is finished. For now, I think there are some leftover ladyfingers in the cupboard over there. Feel free to take a couple and pour yourself a glass of milk. I won’t be too long.”
With that, she began work in earnest to finish making the cake. The dollop of molasses was just what it had needed! It was going to give a little bit of sweetness and spice to the cake. She knew Master Thomas loved a little spice. She shook her head in amusement – a pinch of cayenne would have worked too!
At the table behind her, the man sat down gingerly with a plate of ladyfingers and a small glass of milk he had poured. She could tell he looked extremely out-of-sorts but was being polite. She liked that. So very often, they were impolite. She couldn’t abide that.
Within a few minutes, she had poured out the cake batter into a pan and popped the cake into the pre-heated oven to bake. When the door closed, she sighed contentedly and turned to her companion. By this point, he had pulled the mask down, revealing a handsome young face with a thin blonde beard, and was eating the biscuits slowly.
“Now then! Are you liking your ladyfingers?”
“Uh, yes, ma’am. They’re good.”
“Wonderful! While I make us some sandwiches, why don’t you tell me why you’re here? I assume it’s to kill Master Thomas, but who sent you?”
The man reared up a little at that, surprised.
“I…I can’t tell you that, ma’am. Not for all the sandwiches in the world.”
“Come now. Who am I going to tell? You’ve already threatened my life and now I’ve seen your face. When we’re done here, you’re obliged to kill me, so why not give an old lady some peace of mind?”
The look on the man’s face would have been amusing if it wasn’t so sad. He looked completely devastated at the prospect of killing this old lady, but she saw that he knew she was right. She turned away from him to let him think as she started gathering the ingredients for the sandwiches. Roast beef and cheese with some lettuce and tomato sounded quite good right now and she figured that he would not object. Once all the food was laid out, she began methodically putting together the sandwiches.
“Garcia Lopez,” he finally said. She nodded.
“That boy and my Thomas have never liked each other. You’re not the first person he’s sent, you know. There was that Peruvian boy. He was a bit rough-and-tumble. Not like you. You’re more refined. That is, you will be if you get your arms off the table! This isn’t a barn, young man.”
The man sat up and took his arms from where they had been resting on the table. Without looking away from the sandwiches, she actually could just tell he was feeling that old-school shame from back when he was a child.
“Uh, yeah. Sorry, ma’am.”
“Perfectly alright. Now, let’s see. There was also that Russian lady. She was lovely. So sweet and gentle. She helped me in the kitchen a few times! Of course, she was playing the long game and was just seducing my poor Thomas. Nearly got him too. If she hadn’t aimed low, she would have gotten him in the heart with that stiletto as opposed to just hitting muscle. I will give her credit, though. She got the closest. So, how are you going to do it, then?”
She frowned and shook her head as she turned to him.
“Kill him. How are you going to kill him?”
“You know, for a mercenary or secret agent or whatever you are, you’re not being particularly articulate. Come now, young man. Use your words.”
“I was just going to get him alone and stab him.”
“That’s it? No plan? No finesse? Just…get Master Thomas alone and stab him? Stab him where? In the chest? In the back? The throat? The face? Please not his pretty face.”
“I hadn’t thought that far ahead.”
She finished up the sandwiches and brought them over with a kettle of tea and some glasses, setting them down on the table in front of him as she sat down and continued to scold him as she poured the tea for each of them.
“And how did you intend to get him alone? Go ahead and eat now. I mean, this is his fiftieth birthday party! Can you imagine that he is going to be alone for even a split-second tonight? The Mayor is here, as is the District Attorney. I believe that Governor Maddox is going to make an appearance. Not the mention the Chief of Police and Commissioner Hollis.”
She smacked his hand as he stuffed half a sandwich into his mouth as he was speaking.
“No talking with your mouth full! Come now.”
He nodded and finished chewing and swallowing.
“I was gonna just wait until he had a moment and then, you know, just stab him.”
“Assuming that would even have worked,” she said, “how were you going to stab? Here, show me. Stand up and show me the motion. Go on now.”
The man stood up and grabbed his knife. Unsure of himself, he took a wild downward swing that would have likely knocked his target to the ground. As it stood, he nearly fell over. She sighed and stood up.
“If you want to be a butcher, be my guest. However, I can’t imagine that Mr. Lopez would appreciate that lack of artistry and there is no chance that you would make it out alive from the party. Not with that kind of blood spray that you would garner. Here. Let me show you. May I see your knife?”
He hesitated, but she gave him a look. He flipped the knife and handed it to her grip-first. She smiled. She liked how polite he was. Taking the knife in her left hand, she slowly jabbed it upward around where the middle of an average-sized man’s back would be. She repeated the gesture a few times so he could see it.
“Do you see what I’m doing? I’m not flailing around like some lunatic with a cleaver. I’m using this upward motion to get the knife around the spine and between the ribs. That angle of the cut is going to cause considerable damage but not leave blood spraying everywhere. That will allow a cleaner, quicker getaway.”
“That makes sense.”
“Yes, it does! Have you finished your sandwich?”
“Well, sit back down and finish. We have plenty of time.”
She handed the knife back to him and he sheathed it at his side.
“Now,” she asked, “how were you planning on killing me? Or were you not going to kill me? Were you just going to knock me out and hide me in the pantry?”
“I was…maybe thinking about it, yeah,” he said, looking slightly ashamed. She shook her head again. Such an amateur. A cute one, but an amateur.
“Blows to head, especially for women and especially for women my age, can be fatal if done incorrectly and I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but your clumsiness with the knife does not give me much faith in your being able to be precise with where you would hit me and how hard you would hit me. In all likelihood, your big brute hands would have cracked my skull and left me to die – alone – in a pantry where I would not be found for days, given that you would have tried to and possibly would have killed my employer.”
“Sorry, ma’am. Won’t happen again, ma’am.”
The man looked ashamed. She patted his arm again.
“It’s quite alright. What’s your name, young man?”
“It’s…it’s Clifford, ma’am.”
“Well, Clifford, I hope you’ve learned something today.”
“I have, ma’am. Very much so.”
“Good! I’m so glad. Now, you know I can’t have you killing my employer, right?”
“I also know that you were paid probably a significant amount to kill him, right?”
“Okay. We can fix this. Go over to the cupboard there. Go on!”
He stood up and followed her directions.
“Right over there. Good! Now, open it up and pull out the cookie jar. Yes, I’m giving you permission. Okay, good. In the jar, there is, I think, about twenty-thousand dollars in unmarked bills. It usually is a bit more, but I had to do some last-minute shopping. Take it. Go ahead, it’s okay.”
Confused beyond reason at this point, Clifford pulled out a wad of cash from the blue-and-white jar.
“Is this it, ma’am?”
“That’s it. If you leave now, it’s yours. There’s no way that Mr. Lopez paid you that much. He is notoriously cheap when it comes to his employees. You take that and go find yourself a nice new place to live, far away from all this unpleasantness. You’re a nice boy.”
“I…ma’am, I have a job to do.”
“And I appreciate your work ethic! It is so refreshing to see a young person with the singlemindedness that you have. I just can’t let you kill Master Thomas. He is far too dear to me, you understand.”
“It’s not that simple, ma’am. I’m not –”
The door to the kitchen burst open as another two men, equally bulky and equally dressed in black, stormed in while waving assault rifles. They looked at Clifford in disgust. The one in front shook his head and spoke. His voice was even less pleasant than Clifford’s and sounded like treading being scraped off a tire.
“Clifford, what are you doing? You’re supposed to be doing recon! Instead, we find you in here, eating sandwiches?”
Clifford stood up and walked toward the pair, his hands held in a placating gesture.
“Look, Brock, I can explain…”
“Who are your friends, Clifford?” Beverly asked.
“These are –”
“What? Clifford!” Brock said loudly, “You gave her information? You gave her your name and now you’re going to tell her who we are? You’ve lost your damn mind.”
“Language!” Beverly said, offended. The man rolled his eyes.
“Lady, you need to shut the f-”
“Don’t you talk to her like that!” Clifford yelled.
“What is wrong with you?” Brock asked, annoyed, “Why are you defending this old bat?”
“I said don’t talk to her like that!”
“And what if I do?” Brock said.
Tension filled the room as the two men stared at each other. The third man slowly backed out of the room, not wanting to get involved. Beverly watched and sipped her tea.
“This isn’t a fight you want, Brock,” Clifford snarled.
“You’re defending some decrepit old cook against me? We’re blood brothers, man.”
“I told you not to talk about her like that. Last warning.”
“Come now, boys. No fighting in the kitchen,” Beverly said.
“Woman, shut your mo-”
Brock didn’t get the chance to finish. Clifford charged across the kitchen, drawing his knife as he ran, and slammed – knife-first – into the chest of Brock. That spray of blood that Beverly had mentioned erupted into the kitchen as the pair sailed out the open door. The sound of fighting and punching and gunfire filled the air as Beverly finished her tea and sandwich and began to clean up the dishes. The sandwiches could have used a touch more mayo, she thought. Oh well. Next time.
A few minutes later, the sounds ceased, and she looked to the door. After a moment, a bloody and limping Clifford shuffled through the door, his wounds painful to look at but likely not fatal. In his right hand, he held the grip of his knife. The blade, Beverly noticed, was not attached.
“I’m…I’m sorry about the mess, ma’am,” Clifford grunted out as she came over to him and helped him sit down.
“Oh, it’s quite alright, you sweet boy. You just sit there and stay alive. I’ll fetch the doctor and we’ll get you fixed up right as rain. I’d imagine that Master Thomas would love to speak with you and thank you for saving my life. You could kill him then if you liked.”
The man winced. She gathered it was both from pain and her words. Good. That was what she wanted to see.
“Alternatively, the two of you could talk about bodyguard work if you were so inclined.”
From the door on the other side of the room, another man – tall, brown-skinned, bald, and armed – ran in, his face a mask of alarm.
“Beverly! Are you okay? Who is this man? I heard gunshots!”
She motioned for him to holster his weapon. He did so.
“I’m perfectly fine, Chester. Just another incursion gone awry. This lovely young man here is Clifford. As of late, he was working for Mr. Lopez, but he quite handily managed to incapacitate his colleagues. To me, I think that means he’s unemployed, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I suppose I would, ma’am,” Chester said with a smile.
“Good! Why don’t you take Clifford to get patched up and show him around? He’d be new here and could use that helping hand. You remember what that was like, right?”
“Of course. I don’t recall killing two people though.”
“You didn’t. Just the one. What was your sandwich again?”
“Turkey on rye with mustard, ma’am.”
“That’s right! You boys go have fun now. I’ll clean up here.”
Chester helped Clifford up and the two of them left the room. Beverly smiled as she retrieved her mop and bucket. They were always such sweet boys.
In the town of little old Grblnsk
Where the white flowers bloom in snow
And a monstrous mechanism savages farm implements
And a walking nightmare defends the townspeople
You can find a man
A man with a shadowed past
A man with probably an undiagnosed mental impairment
He is the one you search for
Now don’t bollocks it up
- Ancient Proverb
The wind howled and snow swirled outside Purjus Hobune – The Drunken Horse – as inside, a large fire roared and sparked. Hungry and bored Estonian villagers gathered within the tavern to make merry and stay warm. Bread and sausage remains littered the tables and nearly every conceivable surface was either wet or sticky from spilled beer or Vana Tallinn. In the corner, a large, hideous reptile slept, snoring quietly, a stray cat curled up on its back. It was, for many, idyllic.
Behind the bar, an average-sized (okay, a little stocky) man with brown hair, kind brown eyes, and a light brown stubble washed mugs and placed them carefully under the bar, making sure that they didn’t clink and clank whenever anyone moved. It was a bit anal, perhaps, but the man preferred that kind of anal to the other kind. Wait. No, he didn’t. Still, he liked having that kind of order and made a point to maintain it. Looking out over his patrons, he smiled, content with his life and what he was doing. As a spur of the moment thing, he pulled out a mug of his own and poured himself a beer. To hell with it! The drunken bartender was always the best, right? The few regulars that saw him pour it cheered, knowing that tonight was going to be a fun night. Anytime the bartender was drinking, shit was gon’ be cray.
That’s when the door swung open.
Snow and icy wind blew in the entrance as four men made their way inside, shutting the door far too loudly behind them. They were all dressed in black – because cliché is apparently an operating standard in the world – and looked altogether far too annoyed to be in this remote Estonian village at this time. When the first man spoke, it was gruff and strangely accented, almost as if even the English language was not something with which they were incredibly familiar.
“We look for man of Wifflacor. He here, yes?”
Everyone looked around, confused. The bartender knew exactly what they meant but was going to finish his beer anyway. No punk-ass rude foreigners were going to get in the way of his drinking. The first man asked again, getting angrier.
“You listen! Man of Wifflacor! We know he this place! Bring him us!”
Everyone continued to look confused. The bartender finished his drink and was about to speak when, hell with it, he decided to have another one. These pricks could wait. One of the men in the back grabbed a table and flipped it, sending glass and beer everywhere with a large CRASH. The bartender frowned as he drank. That was just downright aggressive and wasn’t acceptable. Almost as if on cue, a pretty brown-haired woman ran – well, waddled due to her pregnant belly - out of the kitchen, a small brown-haired boy right at her heels.
<Ace! We heard a crash! Is everything okay?>, the woman asked, concerned.
<Yes, Kaija,> the bartender, Ace, responded, in broken Estonian, <Everything is fine. Take Gretzky and go upstairs, will you?>
<Why?> Kaija asked, alarmed, <Is it dangerous?>
<It will be. Go. I love you.>
<I love you.>
With that, she took the little boy by the hand and led him up the stairs and out of the room. Ace finished his beer and set the mug down, cleaning it as the intruders walked around the tavern, questioning the patrons in their weird, broken-human speech. Most of the men in the tavern barely understood English, let alone weirdness, so they were only able to shrug and get back to their conversations and their drinks. The intruders, on the other hand, became considerably more and more agitated the longer the fruitless search went on.
“We want of Wifflacor man! You bring him!”
“Not going to get through to them, muchacho,” Ace said, not bothering to look up from the mug he was cleaning, “Their grasp of English is rudimentary at best and that garbledy-shit you’re talking? No chance of even communicating. Sorry.”
He still didn’t look up, even as he heard and felt the four men move to the bar, the smell of sulfur leaking from them like a dysenteric toddler after a three-course fast food Mexican dinner. Their heat was surprisingly intense and he had to blink his eyes a few times to clear away the sweat that was already starting to drip. When the first man spoke, it was with a guttural snarl.
“You! Englisher! Speak to Wifflacor and bring hims now!”
Ace’s eyes flicked up to meet those of the man leaning over the counter. He maintained his calm, even though he saw the total wrongness on the face of the man. The proportions were all messed up. The face was too long, the mouth too wide, the nose too stubby, the brows too thick, and the eyes too…there was frankly no explaining the eyes except to say that they looked like a cow’s – big, stupid, and a little goggly. Something wasn’t right here. Obviously.
“Demon or what?” Ace asked.
“Are you a demon or what are you? You’re clearly not human. Not with that face anyway. I mean, as far as passing for an actual person, you’ve put forward about the weakest effort I’ve seen yet. So, I’ll ask again: are you a demon or what?”
“Am no demon!”
“Alright, I’ll believe you. What are you then?”
“Am human mans! Obvious is!”
“Okay,” Ace said with a sigh, “whatever you say. What do you want Wifflacor for? He’s a friend of mine and I don’t want to toss him to whatever you are without a good reason.”
“He…not your business!” the wrong man sputtered out, a bit flustered.
“It is my business, so tell me what you want.”
“Maybe we kill all you and take him?”
This butthole was obviously tired of discussion and all of the other men moved in tandem with him to enforce the threat. Ace sighed again. Couldn’t have been easy, he supposed. He nodded his head to them in deference.
“Fair enough. I’ll play along. He’s in the back. Let me go get him for you, alright?
“You will speed!”
Ace walked into the kitchen and there was the sound of banging and crashing as things were moved around. The men at the bar looked overly pleased with themselves, smug in their belief that they had intimidated a poor bartender into carrying out their will and all it took was a weak threat. After a moment, Ace came walking out, holding a large shotgun. The men at the bar were confused.
“I’m Ace Wifflacor, bitch, and this is my boomstick,” Ace growled.
The head of the lead man exploded in a shower of fake hair, rubber, green blood, and one-half of a set of mandibles. Not human. Mantid. The body crashed to the ground and the other three men shrieked in fear, confusion, and a little bit of pain in their brains. This was not supposed to happen. It was supposed to be far easier than this but –
“You Venusian pricks,” Ace laughed, “You really thought you could come in here and take down the big dog? Me?”
A second one flew back, smashing into the wall, and landing on the floor, its pincers working frantically to get out of the fake hands so it could pin together its now-shattered carapace. The last two stood still, completely in shock.
“How many of you are there?” Ace asked, trying to keep them off-guard.
“How many of you are there? You know I know that you never send just four, especially not a raiding party, and especially especially not when you’re trying to take a high-value target like Monsieur Awesome here. In fact, I’d wager that you probably have another twenty of you jagoffs outside, including one of your brood fathers acting as a sergeant. Am I right?”
The disguised mantids just stared at Ace, really unsure of what to do. Ace sighed.
The third one went down, a pincer attached to an arm skidding across the floor, the former owner collapsing to the ground and chittering in anguish. The fourth immediately turned and tried to bolt out the door. Ace whistled.
“Rufie. Warning shot.”
The knockoff velociraptor sprang out of his deep sleep in an instant and snarled, the rumbling ramping up in volume until it was a horrifying reptilian howl. The fourth Venusian wisely decided to stay put, especially given the fact that Rufie had made his way across the floor and was currently growling quietly in the Venusian’s face. Ace came up right behind him and whispered in his ear.
“Bring. It. On. Outside. Ten minutes. Go.”
With a slap on the ass, Ace sent the scout tearing off through the door. He laughed as he went to the stairs and called up to his family, in English this time.
“Kaija! Gretzky! It’s the bug people again. We’re going to have a rumble outside in about ten minutes. Do you want to watch?”
“No!” she called back and he rolled his eyes.
“Fine! Will you at least wake up Papa? I would like his help since there are probably twenty more of them outside.”
A disgusted groan from upstairs, but she went down the hall anyway. Ace could hear her talking quietly to Papa in Estonian, followed by an excited grunt and movement. Papa did always enjoy a good rumble. A minute later, the gigantic man made his way down the stairs, fully gray-haired now but just as large, just as covered in flannel, and just as ready for a fight – maybe even more so now that his grandchild – grandchildren, counting the one in his daughter’s belly - could be in danger. In his paw of a left hand, Papa carried his ‘problem solver’, a six-inch thick, four-foot long tree branch studded with knotholes and wrapped in a rusty bike chain. The only modification – save the bike chain – that Papa had made was carving grooves into the bottom eighth of the branch where his fingers could slot in for a stronger grip. Essentially, he created a weapon that was an extension of his own massive arm. Papa had never used his ‘problem solver’. In fact, even the threat of getting it was always enough to resolve even the most bitter blood feud. Ace admitted privately that he was excited to see it get used for once.
<Do you have your weapon, Ace?> Papa grumbled and Ace tossed his shotgun to Kaija, who had come downstairs with Gretzky because she couldn’t lie to herself – she wanted to see the two most important men in her life splatter some aliens.
<Of course, Papa,> he said, reaching behind the counter of the bar to pull out his own versions of the ‘problem solver’.
In lieu of the massive girth of Papa’s weapon, Ace had opted for a more…edged twist. He had two weapons. The first, an aluminum baseball bat, had been welded with several rail spikes. Every edge possible had been sharpened to a razor-like fineness and even the very top of the bat had been sheared into a pyramid shape. The grip had leather straps tied around it which, when tied, anchored the bat to Ace’s right arm so it couldn’t be taken away. Worst-case scenario, the bat was knocked out of his hand and became a flail of unimaginable destructive potential.
The other weapon was one that he kept strapped to his back and only used it in the direst situations, which had been never so far. It was a sword he had found in a cave in Estonia a few months back that had grooves in the blade and a reservoir in the handle that could be filled with lighter fluid and ignited when needed, creating a flaming sword, which was literally the thing that nobody in the universe – human or not – wanted Ace Wifflacor to have power over. Kaija had tried in vain several times to get him to return the sword to the cave because, come on, it was clearly cursed and left there to trap the unsuspecting simple soul that took it and used it, but Ace was not swayed. It was too damn cool.
<I’m ready when you are,” he said to Papa, who nodded.
<Is anyone else going to help?>
The other people in the tavern shrugged. If they were needed, they could rally but they trusted Papa and Ace. Rather, they trusted Papa and Ace probably couldn’t hurt things.
“Cowards,” Ace muttered, but strapped his weapons on, walked to the door, flung it open, and stormed out, ready for battle. Papa followed, slightly proud of his headstrong son-in-law.
Outside, there were not twenty Venusians waiting.
There were sixty.
A full two platoons of chittering, chattering, reeking mantid assholes. Ace’s eyes went wide. This was…considerably more difficult than he had expected. The segmented eyes of all the mantids turned to him and narrowed in anger. Definitely bad.
“I…may have been hasty,” he said, before a particularly large mantid with an eye patch strode out of the mass of insects. This was a brood father, one of their military leaders and, by the looks of it, one that probably had a grudge against Ace, judging by the eye patch.
“Ace Wifflacor, so good you to come!”
Even though it was a leader, it was still not particularly well-versed in human speech. The downfall of their empire, Ace had thought then and thought now.
“I did not expect there to be this many of you or I would not have.”
The mantid made a sound that was probably analogous to laughter, although it was more of a ‘sand being poured’ hissing noise.
“Tricks and lies! Now you come and nobody hurt.”
“Well, that sure as hell ain’t going to happen, so what’s your next offer?”
“You remember me?”
“I...well, no,” he admitted, “but I was also on a lot of coke at that point so all of you kinda looked the same to me. Still do, honestly.”
“I Bfghjkl! Great brood father of Ecvbhnj! You put sharp in eye when run and now can see bad! You die for insult!”
“Look, man, if it’s any consolation, I probably feel super bad about it, so can I just say I’m sorry and we can get on with this?”
“No! Venus demand blood for – ”
Bfghjkl’s head went soaring off into the darkness, trailing a thin stream of green behind it. Papa lowered his ‘problem solver’, now covered in green, and grunted.
<We kill them now, Ace.>
Ace raised his weapon and charged.
The next several minutes were a bloodbath. While the Venusian hive mind was normally a benefit in battle – and had been used many times to overwhelm human forces – the mind does not work so well when half of the connected brains are screaming in terror and half are trying to quiet things down. As a result, confused buzzing and clicking was their first – and as it turned out, only – line of defense against the destruction coming their way. Green sprays arced into the air as the club and bat smashed thoraxes and sliced off appendages. Within under twenty minutes, the entire force, save three, had been turned into crunchy piles of carapace, ganglia, and ichor. The last three, naturally, were being interrogated.
Okay, the last two.
“Here’s the plan,” Ace said, waving the freshly-bloodied bat under the mandibles of the second mantid in line, “You get on that ship you have hidden in the woods somewhere, you fly back to whoever the hell sent you, and you tell them that your kind is not welcome on this planet anymore. I mean, aside from the country we gave you. And ‘your kind’? Wow, that sounded pretty racist, didn’t it? Speciesist? Is that a word? The point is, get the hell out of here.”
The one he was threatening obeyed instantly. It stood up and absolutely bolted into the woods. Ace laughed because he knew that there was no way it was going to make it. Too many wolves out there. The other mantid, however, stood up and ran into the tavern, coming out a moment later – followed by screams – holding Ace’s son, Gretzky, with his neck in the pincer of the mantid. Ace froze.
“Papa! Daddy!” his boy cried, scared. Ace felt a little spike of pure fury enter his skull.
“Now you turn listen human!” the angry creature garbled out, “I – ”
The head exploded as Kaija fired a shotgun shell directly into it. The body fell down and Kaija walked over, gently pushed Gretzky behind her, and unloaded the rest of the shells into the mantid’s corpse. Seven shells. Without stopping. It was only when the gun started clicking that Ace came over, picked up his son, took the gun from his frenzied wife, and gave her a green-tinted kiss on the cheek. He hugged her close as they walked inside and he spoke.
“That’s my beautiful, unhinged psychopath of a wife! Now let’s get inside. We can get some of the other villagers to come out here and clean the bodies. New special until it runs out: arrogant asshole bugs who think they can come here and mess with us…fried in olive oil.”
The tavern cheered. It was so rarely that they were able to have a different kind of food, so they were completely willing to ignore the source. Variety is variety, after all.
Outside, a wolf howled, deep in the forest.
Here is where I''ll post random stories that aren't, as of yet, in a larger book. Call it a free ride into the mouth of madness, yo.